Dwell Time SEO Mystery

Dwell Time – The Mysterious SEO Factor

Today, when we’re discussing about new and upcoming SEO ranking factors to optimize for, we can list quite a few terms/technologies that were not present just a few years ago. Such asWhat is Dwell Time for SEO?

  • Page Speed
  • Mobile Friendliness
  • BrainRank
  • Natural Language
  • Micro-moments
  • Voice Search
  • Dwell Time - aha, the “mysterious” SEO factor

If we go from top to bottom of the list above, over time slowly these factors are becoming part of the core SEO. For example, Page Speed is now well accepted as a ranking factor as well as a conversion factor. Mobile Ready, HTTPS, and Micro-moments are becoming part of core as we speak. AMP is new and upcoming.

The last one listed above “Dwell Time” holds a little mystery. The reason it seems mysterious is because it’s not easy to understand and not possible to measure straight-away, hence adds to the confusion and “importance” at the same time.

History of “Dwell Time”

Quick research shows no other than Duanne Forester (@duanne) has used the term “Dwell time” as early as in 2011 to describe it as a way for search engines to get sense of a website. This is for Bing however Google might be measuring exactly the same metrics as well. Duanne says, Dwell Time is “the time between when a user clicks on our search result and when they come back from your website”.

Later, in 2012Dr. Peter J. Meyers from Moz talks about Dwell Time as one of the 2 user metrics that matter the most for SEO.

In 2014, Neil Patel has tied Dwell Time with Session Duration, Bounce Rate and CTR on SERP.

Dwell Time and SEO in 2016

Having listed 3 great articles above, I could simply stop here. Readers can go through above articles and form their own opinion. Below is my attempt to frame “Dwell Time” within what digital marketers can measure and impact this important metrics.

How to Impact Dwell Time as Marketers? – Demystifying Dwell Time

It is well accepted that CTR is very critical factor in SEO. For ranking of any keywords, CTR is certainly one of the elements with highest weight. However, the concept of Dwell Time as Duanne has introduced does not include CTR. CTR is an important and standalone factor of its own. That leads us to following conclusion in terms of how to measure and impact the Dwell Time:

Basically, we can impact “Dwell Time” by increasing “Page on Time” and decreasing “Exit Rate”.

Note, I used the term “Exit Rate” not the “Bounce Rate” as opposed to Neil Patel‘s SEJ article.

Exit Rate vs Bounce Rate

It’s important to understand the user experience that started from clicking on the link on SERP might involve more than a single page, especially in an eCommerce enabled website. In that journey customer might have gone from a landing page to few other inner pages before returning to the original SERP. So in this context, to account for all pageviews, Exit Rate is more appropriate than the Bounce Rate. Bounce Rate would be more meaningful if we’re discussing situation (or industries) where the goal of the searcher is expected to be met on the first page itself. (For example, for blog posts.)

Note the standard definitions: For all pageviews to the page, Exit Rate is the percentage that were the last in the session. For all sessions that start with the page, Bounce Rate is the percentage that were the only one of the session. Bounce Rate for a page is based only on sessions that start with that page.

Measurement of Dwell Time

Unfortunately, Dwell Time cannot be expressed in minute or seconds as it’s a combined factor of 2 metrics: “Session Visit Time” and “Exit Rate”. However, within Google Analytics, “Dwell Time” can be tentatively measured by combining Page on Time with Exit Rate. So, higher the “page on time” and lower the “exit rate”, better the “Dwell Time” is.

If we follow this line of thinking, to improve “Dwell Time”, we need to focus on content relevancy and quality that will have customers stay on the page longer and exit the page at lower rate.

Simply put: (read it as Tweetable)
Drive quality traffic to relevant page and increase Dwell Time.

The same can be expressed mathematically as
Increase Page on Time and Decrease Exit Rate (and Bounce Rate, when appropriate) for better Dwell Time.

How to improve Dwell Time as Marketers?

  • Example 1: Add a Video
    Let’s see what happens when we add a video on the landing page? When customers arrive from the SERP to a landing page, and engage with an relevant video, the Time on Page increases. Without even changing the exit rate element, the quality factor of Dwell Time gets better.
  • Example 2: Add an interactive Quiz
    Quiz and any other interactive content will engage customers longer and provided they are relevant and adding value to the overall experience, quiz will help improve the Dwell Time.
  • Example 3: Add an survey on a footer
    Normally, customer don’t come to the page to fill a survey, however, if there is unobtrusive survey that they can complete, that will add to the value of the Dwell Time while not taking them away from the purpose of the webpage.
  • Example 4: Make the page longer (in a meaningful way without hurting conversion rate of the page):
    A longer page would have higher Dwell Time than shorter, provided the content is valuable and relevant. With longer content, it’s also critical to have proper design so the visitors see what they came to the website for above the fold and if they want further details, those can be accessed on-page with clear Call to Actions (CTA). Here, “See More” type div elements with more content, images, specifications etc can be deployed without hurting the Conversion Rate of the page. Similarly, another concept to think about could be “Infinite Scroll”.
  • Example 5: With Proper use of Internal Linking
    Now, we can also focus on the overall session length by taking visitors from Page A to other relevant Page A1, A2 etc. Here, the goal is to provide what visitors would like to learn more about the topic within the website by sending them to say related Resource Center, Case Studies, Testimonials etc.
  • Example 6: Improve the overall quality of the content on the page
    This is surely the most important aspect of Dwell Time is to address the quality of page. This can be improved by reviewing the copy of the page to by adding necessary rich content.


Dwell Time is the combination of 2 known metrics – Time on Page and  Exit Rate (Bounce Rate in some cases), though exact ratio of the factors are still a mystery within Search Engine’s secret algorithm. It may also include other known user engagement metrics. With creative digital marketing techniques Dwell Time can be positively impacted by increasing engagement on the page.


About Ujjwal Bhattarai

Ujjwal is an engineer by education, a programmer by hobby, and an internet marketer by choice. Other than 1 minute chess, and biking, his passion includes SEO, SEM/PPC, CRO, and Web Development. As a lifelong student of Internet Development, he is hopelessly addicted to Internet, and sincerely believes after fire, wheel, and decimal point, internet is the fourth most important invention in the human history. Catch up with him on Twitter at @uj2wal or at his Google+ .

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